Kansas unemployment rate climbs to 5.6% in November, first uptick since April

KDOL opens help desk to assist businesses with jobless, tax issues

The Kansas unemployment rate in November increased for the first time in six months to 5.6%. The rate in November 2019 was 3.1%, but the COVID-19 pandemic pushed the rate to a high of 11.9% in April (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)
The Kansas unemployment rate in November increased for the first time in six months to 5.6%. The rate in November 2019 was 3.1%, but the COVID-19 pandemic pushed the rate to a high of 11.9% in April (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — The unemployment rate in Kansas jumped to 5.6% in November with more than 86,000 people jobless in the coronavirus-damaged economy and ahead of expiration of special compensation programs for people unable to work, officials said Friday.

Ryan Wright, secretary of the Kansas Department of Labor, said the monthly analysis showed the unemployment rate in Kansas increased from the revised rate of 5% in October to 5.6% in November. In November 2019, the percentage of Kansans on unemployment was 3.1%.

After COVID-19 began to influence the Kansas economy, the jobless rate surged to 11.9% in April. It gradually declined during the next six months with rates of 10% in May, 7.5% in June, 7.2% in July, 6.9% in August, 5.9% in September and 5% in October.

Wright said the department of labor had paid out more than 3.4 million weekly claims totaling $2.4 billion between regular unemployment and the federal pandemic programs since March 15.

The Kansas increase in unemployment recorded in November occurred as three special benefit programs were set to expire in December. The Extended Benefits program, which offers aid to people who ran out of regular unemployment assistance, expired Dec. 12.

“In addition, two federally funded CARES Act programs, the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program and Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation program, are currently scheduled to end on December 26, unless Congress acts to extend them,” Wright said.

The preliminary report for November from the state Department of Labor and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics indicated the number of Kansas nonfarm jobs fell by 2,900. The report said the number of private-sector jobs in Kansas was reduced by 2,600 and government employment slipped 300 during the month.

“Nonfarm job growth has slowed,” said Emilie Doerksen, an economist at the state labor department. “In November, total nonfarm jobs declined by 2,900, with the majority of this decline in the leisure and hospitality and professional and business services industries.”

Since November 2019, a period influenced primarily by business and consumer activity during the pandemic, the number of total nonfarm jobs in Kansas has declined by 58,300. That employment change reflected a decrease of 45,800 private-sector jobs and 12,500 government jobs, officials said.

Meanwhile, the state Department of Labor launched an “employer help desk” staffed with dedicated operators to assist businesses with questions about filing quarterly wage reports and unemployment tax returns, paying unemployment taxes, tax rates and how to handle fraudulent claims. Employers will also be able to submit applications for the Shared Work Compensation Program. Operators will also be able to assist in transferring employers to the correct KDOL division for additional help and guidance, if necessary.

“Now more than ever, during this pandemic, employers need information to make decisions more quickly and efficiently,” said Wright, the state’s labor secretary. “There are so many opportunities to provide input through this service and create a more collaborative environment to give guidance and support.”

Employers can contact the agency’s new help desk from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday at 888-396-3725. It cannot assist individual unemployment claimants, but the agency urges those people to call 800-292-6333.

The Kansas labor department has been hammered by state legislators for computer problems, staffing shortages, a flood of fraud attempts and other issues tied to serving Kansans during the pandemic.

“We have been working to make KDOL more responsive to the public at every level,” Wright said. “We have made significant improvements to the systems that interact with claimants and now we are improving the business-related systems so that business managers and owners have a more positive experience with the agency.”